Bach and Shostakovich reviews/Pandreon/R.Greenberg/ San Francisco/ Sept.2018

I have always enjoyed hearing (and reading through) Shostakovich’s “24”, but frankly, I never gave them a whole lot of thought until I heard a recording made by Roger Woodward (born December 20, 1942) in 1975 on Celestial Harmonies.

DAY-UM! So THIS is how folks felt when they heard Glenn Gould’s first recording of The Goldberg Variations in 1955!!!! One revelation after another after another after another, all of them informed by a degree of energy, lyricism and SWING that I had never sensed in the music – that I could never have sensed - until I heard Woodward’s performance!

Purists might sneer: “he’s playing too fast”; “that’s not what Shostakovich wanted”; “it’s too loud”; “it’s too soft”, blah, blah, blah.

The purists be damned. Woodward’s clarity of articulation and linearity, his lyricism and sheer rhythmic energy show the Shostakovich “24” to be the incredible masterwork that it is: Shostakovich’s magnum opus for keyboard, his greatest single work for the piano.

Woodward intuits what I understand to be Shostakovich’s very personal, very idiosyncratic musical idiom in a manner that I find alchemical. I would also point out that Woodward’s performances have the additional benefit of putting into high relief the intimate spiritual and musical relationship between Shostakovich’s “24” and Bach’s own WTC.

And while we’re talking about Bach: Woodward’s 5-cd recording of both books of the WTC (also on Celestial Harmonies) is – to my ear – damn-near perfect for all the same reasons as his recording of the Shostakovich “24”. His playing is characterized by lyricism and power in equal measure; unbelievable clarity of line and articulation. Woodward’s WTC is interpretively insightful but never eccentric; and it demonstrates a sense of dramatic line that somehow renders these two sets of 24 preludes and fugues into larger musical entities. Recorded on a Steinway D, it does not get any better than this.

Robert Greenberg “Pandreon”, San Francisco, September, 2018

“fingers and nerves of steel”   Andrew Porter, The New Yorker